by miriam berg
Chapter XXI

The next morning, Yeshua took his farewell of Zacchaeus and departed out of Jericho. It is a fifteen-mile trip from Jericho to Jerusalem, and a three thousand foot climb. The countryside becomes drier as you progress up the road away from the oasis of Jericho, which is watered by the 'Ain es Sultan and the Wadi Qilt but surrounded by the wilderness of Judea on all sides, finally arriving at the foot of Mount Olivet, where the little village of Beth-Aniya sits, only two miles from Jerusalem, shaded by the somber peak of Mount Scopus, the tallest of the three peaks of Mount Olivet, 2,700 feet above sea level, near the creek called the Kidron, which flows into the salt sea. Yeshua would not have passed any other villages on this hike, but would have crossed over the Wadi Qumran, somewhere above the location of the settlement of the sect of the Qumranians who left the "Dead Sea Scrolls". No doubt it was nightfall by the time he and his followers reached Beth-Aniya and found a place to stay for the night.

Yeshua may have given some kind of farewell speech before he left Jericho; and he surely must have spoken to the disciples and his followers on the way. Matthew tells us the following parable about the time Yeshua was in Jericho, called the parable of the labourers in the vineyard:
For the kingdom of God is like a householder, who went to the village early in the morning to hire labourers to work in his vineyard. And when he had contracted with them for a dollar a day, he sent them into his vineyard.
      He went out again during the middle of the morning, and saw men standing idle in the marketplace; so he said to them, Go work in my vineyard, and at dusk I will pay your wages. So they too went to the vineyard.
      He went out yet again about noon and hired others, and again during the middle of the afternoon, and hired still more.
      Then at nearly five o'clock he went out for one last time, and found still other men standing idle, and he asked, Why have you been standing here idle all day? They answered, Because no man has hired us. So he told them too to go work in his vineyard, and that he would pay them at evening.
      Then when dusk had fallen, he told the foreman to pay them all their wages, beginning with the last he had hired. So when the men who had been hired at 5 o'clock came, they each received a dollar for their hour's work.
      Then those who had been hired earlier in the morning came, and they were sure that they would be paid more than the last hired; but each of them too received a dollar. Then they complained about the householder, and said, These last have worked only one hour, but you have paid them the same as us, who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.
      But the householder told them, Friend, I did not do you anything wrong; didn't you contract with me to work for a dollar a day? Take your wages, and go home now; it is all right for me to pay the last as much as I have paid you. Isn't it lawful for me to do what I want with my money? or do you think that you are better than I am?
A startling result! So it does not matter to God, who is surely the lord of the vineyard, whether you begin working in the vineyard of the world under the reign of God today or tomorrow; he will reward you just the same. Yeshua might have been saying that even though the Jews had been given the Torah twelve centuries before, and should have learned how to be just and merciful to all people by now, the Romans, who were latecomers on the international scene, but who could just as ably practice those teachings if they wanted to, would in the final analysis be treated equally by God. This parable pounds the last coffin nail into the chosen people theory, whether for the Jews, or for any other group that considers itself superior.

Luke reports that Yeshua told one more parable on the way to Jerusalem, in response to the expectations of his listeners that the "kingdom of God" was immediately to appear. Matthew gives a slightly different version of the parable but not until after they have arrived in Jerusalem. We can believe that the two versions are the result of the remembering of two different people; anyone who has told a story knows how, without intending any distortion, you forget some details, and put in others to make the story more vivid; even I must have done that in telling this, THE STORY OF YESHUA, try as I might to be as accurate as I can. But plucking out from the two versions those elements which are indisputably common to both, the nub of the parable, which is known as the parable of the talents, is as follows:
A certain nobleman was going into a far country, so he called his servants to him, and put them in charge of his finances. And he gave one of them five talents, and another two, and another one; and he instructed them to manage his business until he returned.
      Immediately the servant that had received the five talents went and traded with them, and soon he had five more talents. The servant that had received two talents soon doubled his money also. But the servant that had received one talent went and dug a hole and hid his lord's money.
      And after many days the nobleman came back, and called his servants again for a reckoning.
      And the servant that had received the five talents came and brought the other five, and showed them to him. The lord was pleased, and set the servant over an even larger part of his wealth.
      And the servant that had received two talents came and brought the other two, and showed them to him. Again the lord was pleased, and set the servant over a great deal of his wealth.
      Finally the one who had received only one talent came and said, Sir, I knew you were a severe man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter; so I kept your talent hidden in the ground; see, here it is.
      But his lord said to him, You lazy servant, since you say that I reap where I do not sow, and gather where I did not scatter, you should at least have put my money in the bank, so that I could have gotten it back with interest.
      Take the talent away from him, and give it to the servant that has ten talents. For unto every one who has much shall more be given; but from him who has nothing, even that which he has will be taken away.
A "talent" was a considerable weight of coinage, varying in the countries around the Great Sea, but roughly about 2,000 dollars in modern money. But what is Yeshua telling his listeners? The point of the parable might be, Invest your money, and make more; but surely Yeshua wasn't being as crass as that! Or the point might be instead: Develop your talents, and you will be promoted; stripped of the taint of mammony, that may indeed have been Yeshua's purpose in telling the parable. But perhaps the point of the parable is not the increase of an investment, which is after all a rather commonplace observation, but the punishment of the person who does not invest, by the loss of his wealth. And surely money which is not invested declines in value according to the law of inflation, which, however, Yeshua could not have known, although he might have intuited it. But it is most difficult to see what this parable has to do with the appearance of the reign of God!

And it is hard to see how increasing your wealth by investment is consistent with Yeshua's earlier teachings: Sell all that you have; and, Lust not after possessions, for you cannot serve both God and mammon. Neither is the concept of taking away a poor person's little holding because they didn't invest it consistent with Yeshua's teaching that the eleventh hour labourers are rewarded by the owner of the vineyard equally with the rest, or that his followers were to be poor, or that the poor were blessed. Such a concept would seem to be saying that the reign of God consists of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer! which we cannot believe Yeshua would have supported. In short, perhaps the original meaning of the parable has been lost in transmission, so that we cannot really tell what this parable is telling us about the reign of God, or ethical behaviour, or anything else Yeshua has been talking about so far.

It seems cautiously safe to suppose that Yeshua may have been saying that the Jews were like the servant who buried his one talent, and that since they have not applied the teachings of Yohanan and the great prophets of the eighth century B.C.E. or the Torah itself, they will not count in the establishment of any kind of peaceful kingdom on earth, and will certainly not attain the reign of God of which he and Yohanan have spoken. But who can the servant with the ten talents represent? the Romans? the Herodians? the amme ha-eretz? anybody at all? And is it God who is supposed to be the lord who reaps where he does not sow? It is a most puzzling parable, despite being one of the best known. But we can see that his parables are certainly getting more political, and not at all as simple and clear as the ones he told at first back home on the plain of Gennesaret.

As they were going in the way up to Jerusalem, Yeshua could not help thinking, This is it. Tomorrow they would be in Jerusalem, and in a week he would have been killed by the authorities. There was no way they could stand listening to his message, any more than the ancient Judeans could stand listening to Jeremiah preaching nonresistance to the Assyrians, or than Herod could stand being condemned by Yohanan, or any powerful class could stand listening to a prophet telling them that their oppressive privileges were evil. So again he took the twelve disciples to one side, and tried to tell them what was going to happen to him:
Let me tell you one more time: we are going up to Jerusalem, and the son of man shall be arrested by the chief priests and the scribes; and they shall condemn him to death, and shall turn him in to the Romans; and they shall mock him, and shall spit upon him, and shall whip him, and shall kill him.
      But I predict that within three days my spirit will revive among you all and empower you.
No clearer forecast of his future was ever told by any man; but the disciples did not understand a word. This is the third time that Yeshua has foretold his death, but his words were incomprehensible to the disciples, and for all the perception they had of his meaning, they might as well not have heard it at all.

So they spent the night in Beth-Aniya, which is Hebrew for "the house of date trees". John says that it was the home zf Mary and Martha; Luke however has placed their home in a village in Samaria. Perhaps it was the home of a relative of theirs, and they had joined Yeshua on his journey to Jerusalem. But tomorrow they would go up to the great city; it was the month to celebrate the ancient Jewish feast of Pesach, commemorating their traditional escape from the land of Egypt and the oppression of Rameses II. It would be Yeshua's second and final visit to Jerusalem. On the first, he had amazed the rabbis with his understanding; this coming week, well, they would see, but as we have heard him say, he had no hope as to the outcome.

Next chapter